In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with North Texas newsmakers, Anthony “Tony” Brubaker, a Black stuntman who was inducted into the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth on Saturday, July 23, spoke with business editor Bob Francis about his career. Brubaker is a legendary Hollywood stuntman who worked with stars such as Sidney Poitier and Danny Glover. Now living in Frisco, Brubaker explained how he got in the business and some of the films and television shows he worked on.
Other new inductees included:Alfred and Essie Morris, Chris Navarro, DeBoraha Akin-Townson, Sammy Davis Jr. Danny Glover, Reginald T. Dorsey, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Bob Francis: This is some fascinating history you are a part of.
Anthony “Tony” Brubaker: It’s unique and different, something that you had no opportunity to learn from the get go. Had you learned (about Black history) when you were 10, 12, 14 years old, it would be just second nature to you to know all this stuff happened back in the day. So I’m just happy to be here for kids to know about, there is a… “If he can do it, I can do it” type of thing.
Francis: Where do you live now?
Brubaker: We live in Frisco. We just moved.
Francis: Give me a bio of yourself and your name.
Brubaker: My name’s Anthony Brubaker. Everybody says Tony Brubaker, the American way. Born in New Orleans. Moved to California when I was 9. Fell in love with horses at the age of probably 12, at a riding stable. Got a job, worked there for probably three or four years. My every waking moment was with the barn, working around the horses. Worked for free for two or three months. I didn’t care, I just wanted to be around horses. Well, I got an opportunity to be around some kids whose dads were in the business, stunt guy’s kids. And one was going to teach a friend of mine how to do motion picture fights. So he said, “Tony, you want to go with me?” And I said, “Well, yeah.”
Francis: How old were you?
Brubaker: I was 16 then. I said, “Yeah.” I didn’t know what a stunt man was, but it was exciting because this is what they do in the picture business.
Francis: I would at that age.
Brubaker: I went and I sat on the fence and whatever they told my friend Carl to do, I used to go home and I would practice it. It may have been right or wrong, I don’t know, but it was fun. So I got OK with it, just fair. Nobody said you did good or did bad, I was my own judge. So there was a wrangler who used to trade horses with my boss, who owned the riding stable. And I would get on his horses and show them to my boss and make the horses look pretty good. So Jack liked the way I made his horses look.
Francis: Those horses were your ticket into the business?
Brubaker: Yes. And he said, “You know what? They got a couple guys in the business that are doing one show and they want one guy to do both jobs.” They had a hell of a cowboy that couldn’t do the picture fights. And then they had a hell of a fight man that couldn’t ride a horse. So they said, “Well, can we get one guy to do both jobs? Two guys are kind of silly.” So Jack got me an invitation to go when they were looking for one guy. And I went up there and the guy that I still know today, Walter, I met with a couple of producers, a couple of directors, unit managers over at Columbia Studios, which is not there anymore. And they said, “Walt, take the kid.”(I was) 19 years old, “Take him around the corner, over by the stage over there, and set us up a little routine for fights.”
Francis: Had you done anything like that before?
Brubaker: No. We went around the corner, set up a little fight routine, picture fights, barroom fights were kind of like a dance. Once you’d learn how to do it and stuff, you had it pretty good, you’d go over a bar, through a table and you’d just keep on going with it. So I wound up doing that and they said, “Well, what do you think Walt?” He said, “Well, the kid, he’s a little rough, but we can work with it.” So then they said, “Well, Jack, let’s go over by the barn and we’ll watch the kid, let the kid ride some horses.” And Jack said, kindly, “I don’t care what you throw at this kid horse-wise, he can do.” I had fabulous legs. I was what? 19 years old, you couldn’t kill me with a .22. You know?
Francis: Got ya.
Brubaker: So they said, “We’ll call you.” I thought it was the old Hollywood thing, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Well, sure enough in about a week or so they called me. Right place, right time, right skill level. Blessed. And 50 plus years later I’m still here. I’ve been rearranged with the help of my doctors, spine surgeries, neck, back, shoulder, knees, hips. I still need the hip done though, but later, after I get old. I’m almost …
Francis: How old are you now?
Brubaker: I’m 76 now, so I’m almost ancient, but I’m still standing by myself.
Francis: What was your first really big role? Big stunt?
Brubaker: I did a show called “There Was A Crooked Man.”
Francis: Big movie stars.
Brubaker: With Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, a lot of big names in the movie. I had to climb up the building about 40 foot, run and dive about 14 foot, and hit a guy standing – a guard. It was a prison. I had to tackle him and fall 40 feet and I couldn’t see where my pads were. So I was, again, because I was physically able and there were probably 20 or 30 stunt guys on the show, but they couldn’t make the distance. Because I was in this prison, the period picture, and I’m watching these stunt guys run and dive out of this room, trying to get to this guy and they were all short. 10, 11, 12, 10, 8 feet short. I’m watching them stand up. Well, I’m only 20 years old. I can’t talk to these guys. I can’t even compete with them. And I’ve got probably a year or two in the business.
Francis: You were the young kid.
Brubaker: And they said, “Tony. You think you can tackle that guy out there?” I said, “Well, sure.” So it was about, let’s say, 14 to 16 foot. So they said, “Show us.” Where the pads were on the ground, I was about a foot and a half off the ground. I ran out there, touched his shoulder and fell. “Can you do that again?” “Sure.” I went back and did it again. “You got the job.” In my mind, this is what, because we’re going to be escaping prisoners, I’m going to come out of the mess hall and see the guy shooting my friends. I’m going to tackle him and we were going to fall a foot and a half.
Francis: Not that easy?
Brubaker: No. Unbeknownst to me, the next day I got the reality of what I’m going to do. The stunt coordinator t said, “Let me show you what you have to do.” So I walked around the side of this building. He said, “You crawl up the side of this building and get up on the roof, and you’re going to run and dive and hit a guard shooting your friends, who are escaping prisoners, and fall 40 feet.” Well, now my heart is going about 90 miles an hour. I say, “Well, I can’t… ” I’m trying to talk my way out of it. “I can’t run on the pitched roof like that. There’s no way.” He said, “Don’t worry, we put some boards up there, level the ground out. You just got to run and dive out there, hit him and fall.” This was on a Monday. We’re going to do it Tuesday. Well, obviously I don’t sleep Monday night.
Francis: No kidding.
Brubaker: Tuesday morning came up. We were getting ready to do it. Well, it was out in Palm Springs, in the desert, where the wind blows incessantly sometimes in the summertime. Wind, dust, so you really couldn’t see anything. They said, “Well, we can’t do it today.” Well now, when do we get to do it?
Francis: Another sleepless night?
Brubaker: We got 24 hours to deal with it.
Francis: Not to sleep.
Brubaker: I didn’t sleep that Tuesday. Tried Wednesday, but it didn’t work. Wednesday night I told the coordinator, I said, “If we don’t do it tomorrow, I cannot go without sleep. I’m dying, I’m scared to death.” He said, “It’s going to happen tomorrow. We talk to the weather report and it’s going to be quiet.” “OK. But don’t worry. If it doesn’t happen, I can’t do it.” “OK.”
Next morning, Thursday, more or less, and no wind, no dust, everything’s good. OK, we’re going to go with it. Sure enough, crawl up the side of the building on the boards, two of them. Dove, hit this guy, fell 40 feet, because they had my pad dug in the ground. Looked like a bunch of rocks, rubber rocks. Well, I made it. No problem. The guy that I tackled, he fell, no problems. Well, I was so excited that when I hit the ground, I jumped up, and they said, “Remember you’re dead.”
Brubaker: So I took a bullet hit and fell down. “Tony, that was great. Fabulous.” I was lucky is what it was. Blessed again. So I wound up, doing a show called “Cotton Comes to Harlem.” “Tony, I want you to come up and do some stuff for doubling Raymond St. Jacques and Godfrey Cambridge. Can you make it?” Talked to my coordinator, because I had two more weeks to go. He said, “Sure, your stuff’s all done. Go ahead.” Now, I’m into cars. So I go from period prison to cars. I got in the business because of horses. Doubled Yaphet Kotto on a couple shows he did on the motorcycle, jumping Harleys. Right place, right time, and blessed, first of all.
Francis: Wow. Those are some great movies.
Brubaker: Yeah. You ought to go on IMDB and look at them. Just put it under stunts. Then I did some Mickey Mouse little parts and stuff. IMDB, and it gives a list of two, three hundred movies that I’ve been blessed to have done.
Francis: And you talked about “Buck and the Preacher” with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier during the presentation. You thought that was a pretty authentic depiction of Black people in the old west?
Brubaker: As much as I can tell, because there weren’t very many… Well, see, Hollywood takes liberties.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.